Courageous conversations with Ren Binden

 Ren Binden photo
Ren Binden Engineer in Consulting & Research
6min read

“...we need accomplices, abolitionists, and activists to bring about systemic change and right injustices, at every level.”

This Pride month, we’re focusing on troublemakers.

Definition: troublemaker (noun); someone who causes problems by making others argue or not obey people in authority.

At 11:FS, we pride ourselves in bypassing legacy infrastructure in the way we operate, with a disruptive regard for tradition - a true troublemaker of our trade. Whilst we joke that we are the Swiss Army knife of financial services as we’re a team with hugely diverse talents, we are at heart a team of truly diverse people.

We sat down with Ren Binden (they/them, she/her), an engineer in our Consulting & Research team, to discuss this year’s Pride London’s theme of #YouMeUsWe.

What does it mean to be a troublemaker?

I think in order to be a troublemaker, you need to recognise what is lawful and what is ethical or moral are not the same thing. There are people whom the law protects, and people whom it does not serve. Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice moves at a snail’s pace. Progress is never linear and must constantly be fought for.

It’s recognising that pursuing equity is more important than pursuing peace

There are many battlegrounds and avenues which are as important as one another: We can approach issues through the court systems, through pressure on our MPs, through demonstrations and through marches. It’s recognising that pursuing equity is more important than pursuing peace, as to pursue peace for its own sake is to defend an inequitable status quo.

And actions that gain attention and move the conversation are important.

A troublemaker I look up to is Christie Elan-Cane (per) - per has been fighting for per right to exist as a non-gendered person long before the conversation was anywhere near the mainstream. Per has long been fighting for the right to have non-gender-specific markers on passports, which is a fight that still continues today. Despite fighting numerous setbacks and structural oppression, per never gives up. Christie’s battles come at great personal cost and per never settles for an individual victory: Christie looks to bring the rights of all people existing outside of a gender binary with per. Beyond X passports, Christie has also fought against the ID card scheme in 2005, discriminatory census questions, and for inclusion in various computer systems across different organisations, and more broadly, for legitimate identity as a fundamental human right.

Looking outwards, what topics would you like to amplify in the conversation around LGBTQIA+?

I’d like to build a society in which people are free to build a self that works for them.

Queerness, to me, is a way of detaching yourself from expectations that have been placed upon you. I’d like to see a world where those expectations are gone and queerness as it exists today, as a rejection of the bounds of society, is no longer necessary, and people can live in a way that feels more natural to them.

Many people in today’s western society use their understanding of gender cues to decide what gender somebody is on sight. This tends to be done on the first time somebody is met: they tend to internalise their first interpretation of somebody’s gender as correct, immutable, and unquestionable.

Gender cues, and the way people internalise gender, vary between cultures and societies. People see different things as an expression of gender, and we often bond over the shared meaning of conforming to, or rejecting, standards and expectations. You might have many important friendships and memories that are built upon shared identities and experiences.

I’d like people to find freedom in queerness, to see themselves in it, and to realise that no matter who you are, you can be queer in a way that works for you.

One day, I’d like to see us stop caring what parts somebody has before they are born, for birth certificates not to conflate down the parts people have and the expectations placed upon people into a single letter, but rather detail what is medically relevant. I’d like to see a world in which we make fewer assumptions of one another, in which we are free to express ourselves however we wish, and in which we associate with one another with fewer boundaries and divisions.

I’d like to create a world in which all laws do not contain gendered language (this is very possible, and was achieved by Malta in 2017), and people being free to form their own identity free of gendered pressure is normalised. Then perhaps we can exist as truer selves, and have a society which works for us all.

I want people who see me to question the possible paths I have taken to exist as I am today, and come to the conclusion that perhaps, it doesn’t matter as much as they thought, that whatever path I have taken, I am me.

In order to create that world, I have built a self that has both a personal and political nature. I am a walking political statement, and when I interact with society, I create space for people to be seen as people, to reduce the relevance of gender, and to come together around what we have in common. I want people who see me to question the possible paths I have taken to exist as I am today, and come to the conclusion that perhaps, it doesn’t matter as much as they thought, that whatever path I have taken, I am me.

Looking inwards: What is one experience that shaped the ‘me’ we see today?

“Me”, as I exist, is very difficult to navigate - there are different parts of myself that I show to different people, which to some extent is true of all people. I draw from the cultures from which I am a part, and they, in turn, draw from me. I have internal selves that I strive to be, or that I am in the present, and I have my shell, my physical presence in the world, that I use to interact with other people. All of these constantly overlap and diverge in many ways.

The “me” that most people see today is the shell - In order to make myself legible to cis people, I express my gender in ways that people are used to and understand, and then also make an effort to subvert that in various ways. This is the “me” that sets an initial expectation upon meeting new people, it is the “me” that interacts with the person at the food cart, or the person selling train tickets, or the postman who has come to deliver a package. Most people do not get past the shell.

Around people who become closer, they may come to understand parts of my internal universe. They may understand that the way I see myself does not perfectly align with my shell. They may see moments of vulnerability, of my journey to alter the shell to align closer to my ideal self-image. They may see parts of my journey, the choices I’ve made, and the lives I’ve lived before.

One day, I hope to see a world where everyone can understand the full complexity of my journey and the battles I’ve fought, come to see me as I am, and offer quaint affirmations that demonstrate their understanding.

What is one thing that can make us (the readers) better allies?

“Allyship” is something that runs through every action and thought you perform, it’s not something you can claim of yourself and it’s not something that’s bestowed once either. It’s understanding how marginalised people interact with society and working to resolve that.

Allyship is continuously working towards making the spaces around you work for more people.

“Allies” is perhaps not strong enough to describe this action, we need accomplices, abolitionists, and activists to bring about systemic change and right injustices, at every level.

What is one action we (the reader) can do to make meaningful change?

  • Keep yourself educated and up to date on issues that affect marginalised communities

  • Write letters to your MPs whenever an opportunity arises and pressure them to do the right things

  • Fight kyriarchy wherever you have an opportunity, and learn the flags and warning signs that signal a space is unsafe for marginalised communities

  • Engage in activism and politics beyond pride marches and voting whenever you have the energy to do so, taking care to preserve your energy so you can keep on fighting for an equitable world tomorrow.